Online Privacy and Fake News: A Concern for Americans More Than Ever

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2018 — A new survey conducted by Washington-based digital agency Rad Campaign and analytics firm Lincoln Park Strategies has found 3 out of 5 Americans distrust social media when it comes to protecting their privacy online. Despite increased use of social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat and use of smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, most Americans have little or no trust that these platforms, or current laws, will protect them. The survey results can be found at http://www.onlineprivacydata.org.

The biennial survey analyzes and tracks trends over a 4-year period, providing one of the most comprehensive datasets on the behaviors and opinions of individuals across the United States. With GDPR taking effect on May 25th, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) believe that it is likely that social media companies collect and sell their data (a 24 percent increase since 2014). Additionally, while 87 percent of Americans now say they are using social media daily (a 7 percent increase compared to 2016), only 3 percent have a lot of trust that social networks will protect their privacy. This lack of trust could likely be attributed to a number of factors including the Cambridge Analytica breach, as well the spread of fake news across social media.

The spread of fake news online by friends and family, as well as strangers, hackers, bots, and foreign countries, is a growing concern for Americans, and Millennials in particular. Over half of the survey respondents (54 percent) feel that foreign bodies will have an influence on the upcoming 2018 US midterm elections via the propagation of content on social networks. Furthermore, 70 percent of Millennials are concerned about the spread of fake news by friends and family. Nearly one-quarter of both Millennials and Gen X said their own friends or family have contributed to the circulation of fake news.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • The percentage of Americans who have a lot of in trust social media has decreased over the past four years, from 7 percent in 2014 to 3 percent in 2018, as social networks struggle to find the right balance between maintaining users’ online privacy and leveraging consumer data for targeted advertising.
  • The online privacy threats that Americans are most concerned about include having personal data stolen (86 percent), identity theft (85 percent)—an increase of 10 percent since 2016, and downloading a virus/malware (84 percent)—an increase of 4 percent since 2016.
  • Millennials have the most trust in social media sites (40 percent) — compared to any other generation. Adults 71+ (silent generation) have the least trust at 27 percent.
  • Facebook’s popularity amongst Millennials has declined by nearly 10 percent since 2014.
  • Over half of Americans (58 percent) believe their smart speakers are constantly listening and collecting personal data on them, then selling that data to advertisers

While almost 40 percent of Americans now believe that current privacy laws are too weak and do not provide reasonable protections to their online privacy, only 28 percent feel that Members of Congress understand the implications of online privacy.

“On one hand, fake news and major data breaches online is taking a toll on Americans and their distrust of social networks and companies to protect their online privacy and data, said Allyson Kapin, Co-Founder of Rad Campaign. “It’s concerning that close to 75 percent of Americans don’t think that Members of Congress understand the implications of online privacy and how to regulate it. At the same time, social media usage is up overall, and more people than ever before are using it as a primary news source. And yet three-quarters of Americans admit that they still don’t read ‘Terms of Service’ when they sign up for new platforms or services.”

“As more and more of our activities create more and more data, we continue down a path where trust is waning, but that is clearly not affecting behaviors. We also know that politicians in the US are not pushing for meaningful changes in how data is handled,” said Stefan Hankin, President of Lincoln Park Strategies. “This combination, coupled with our survey data shows potential problems ahead for social networks, however usership has not created a crisis situation for the firms to police themselves. It will be interesting to see the effects of the GDPR implementation in the EU, and if the US and other countries follow suit, or continue down our current path.”

METHODOLOGY
1,000 interviews among adults over the age of 18 (53% women and 47% men) were conducted from April 26-May 3, 2018 and were weighted to ensure proportional results. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95 percent confidence level.

ABOUT THE PRINCIPALS
Rad Campaign is a social change web agency that provides web development and researches trends on Internet culture. Lincoln Park Strategies is a full-service analytic research firm based in Washington, DC.

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